Climate Camp 2010: Swoop or Swindle?

Climate Camp Swoop 2009
Hundreds of climate change protesters gather on Blackheath in South London to take part in Climate Camp 2009

100 climate activists have swooped on the grounds of RBS headquarters at Gogarburn. The swoop happened a day early at 9.15pm in order to outfox authorities who were keen to prevent the camp from happening.

Secret Climate Camp Location RevealedClimate Camp Press Release

Indeed the authorities were so keen to prevent the camp from happening they offered them a spot on the campus:

The Royal Bank said it had allowed the protesters to establish their camp on part of the site and were willing to meet the protesters.

A Royal Bank source said 80-100 protesters had arrived soon after 9pm yesterday and attempted to cut through security padlocks on bollards at the back entrance to the complex.

“Our security people ushered them to a point in the campus which we had designated as a place they could camp,” he said.

Two arrests made as climate change protest targets RBSThe Scotsman

The camp also claims that 400 activists are on site, which sounds very high considering the lower turnout at the start of previous camps. I’ll believe that when I see it.

It has also been reported that yesterday’s swoop only attracted 40 campers (although others have said there were more), compared to the hundreds that took part in last years swoop. This years camp certainly has received a lot less media coverage than in the run up to previous camps. Jamie Potter has speculated a few reasons why this might be and I’m inclined to agree with most of them.

Looking through the program for this years camp there are only a fraction of the workshops and activities that have been planned at previous camps. Which may indicate what some of activists have suspected for some time – that the Climate Camp movement is in decline. For the last two years activists I have spoken to have been unsure as to whether there would be a camp the next year.

In any case, I’ll be heading up to Edinburgh later today to see whats happening, document camp life and cover the mass action on Monday.

Climate Camp 2010 Media Policy

This years Climate Camp media policy, whilst a little less restrictive than last years is still pretty silly:

  1. The media team cannot control the media on site on the 19th or off site on the 23rd (i.e. the swoop and tat down). If you want to be secure wear a mask.
  2. Media hours 1pm-6pm. The climate camp documenting team to be identifiable and allowed to film/photography outside of media hours.
  3. Journalists will be accompanied by a trained media person on site.
  4. Everyone should ask before taking a photograph / video.

Hopefully they’ve learnt from their blunders of the past and won’t make journalists sign a Code of Conduct as well.

Climate Camp: An Open Letter

2009-08-28_K8K0058 (1)

What happened
Yesterday afternoon as my colleague Marc Vallée and I were leaving Climate Camp we found a group of people arguing around the SWP stall that was selling newspapers and leaflets outside the entrance to the camp.

As we went in to take photographs the group arguing with the SWP quickly turned their attention to us, shouting loudly that we had not asked their permission before photographing them. They were immediately aggressive and threatening, I managed to calm the ones around me and walk away, however, one young man was persistently threatening towards Marc.

They stood a few metres away from the camp, talking for several minutes as Marc explained that he was an independent freelance journalist and that as a matter of principle he would not delete any photographs. The young man insisted that he did not like his photograph being taken and that Marc delete any photographs he had of him. He repeatedly threatened to grab Marc’s camera and delete the pictures himself or smash the camera.

After a while we felt that the situation had calmed enough to walk away. Marc said that they should both shake hands and walk away and offered his hand. The man did not take it and as we turned to leave he tried to grab the camera off Marc’s shoulder.

I stepped in shouting ‘Oi’ and as I did the man took a step back and kicked me hard in the stomach. We backed away and then walked away from the camp, checking that they were not following us.

What happens next
We realise that these few people and one incident are not representative of the camp as we have covered the movement for some years now. However, we believe that the camp’s policy towards photographers and the media have created an environment that sets the stage for this behaviour to happen. The atmosphere created by your policies and attitude towards photographers worringly parallels the anti-terror laws and attitude that we find the police using against photographers.

It is unacceptable to use violence and the threat of violence to intimidate journalists. We do not allow the police to do it and we will not allow protesters to do it either.

We would be well within our rights to go to the police and press charges, however, we are not willing to jeopardise our close relationship with so many of those in the protest movement.

We ask the man who assaulted us to come forward and apologise and that the camps organisers unequivocally condemn his actions. We would also ask the Camp’s organisers to seriously consider their responsibility for the negative atmosphere they have created within their movement towards journalists.

The media are not your enemy, but nor should we be your implicit friends either. We are independent and will report all sides of the story truthfully without fear or favour and that should be what you want of us too.

Signed,

Jonathan Warren
Marc Vallée

The above is an open letter that has been sent to the Climate Camp media team.

Climate Camp: Code of Conduct

2009-08-26_K8K0260
A metal fence has been placed around the camp to 'defend' the site.

As Climate Camp set up on Blackheath in south London yesterday I got hold of a copy of the code of conduct that journalists will be asked to sign if they want to stay on the camp outside of media hours (10am-6pm) and it makes for fascinating reading.

Most of it reinforces the camp’s existing media policy such as asking for everyone’s permission when taking a photograph. The code says ‘When you want to take a picture or a video and it includes people, always, always ask first. If you can’t ask don’t take the picture.

The camp’s organisers claim that all decisions are made with consensus from everyone. But reading through the minutes of the national meetings before the camp, the code of conduct is only ever mentioned in passing. There is never a discussion about what it should be and what it should contain.

So what has resulted is the media team’s moral view on what the press should be allowed to do being imposed on everyone at the camp and on journalists. We do not allow the police to impose their moral view of what should be photographed on us, so why should journalists subscribe to the media team’s views?

Are they supposing that if the police were to raid the camp we wouldn’t be able to photograph it unless we asked everyone defending the camp their permission first? I spent all day photographing people setting up the camp, I didn’t ask a single one for their permission and no-one asked me not to take their picture.

In an interesting twist, this year’s camp is on common land, unlike previous years where they have squatted someone else’s land for a week. So the argument is no longer that they have no right to impose rules on land that doesn’t belong to them, but that they have no right to impose rules on land that belongs to everybody.

Their right to be on the land is equal to mine and any other member of the public. Just because they’ve put a fence up does not give them the right to restrict access or impose restrictions on access.

The final bizarre section is entitled ‘Understand our community’ and states:

  • Anyone who is responsible for violence, intimidation, harassment or unwanted sexual contact will by their behaviour exclude themselves from the camp.
  • We reject any form of language and behaviour that perpetuates oppression, however unintentionally: for example a racist or sexist joke, or interrupting someone on the basis of unspoken privilege.
  • Stealing and other breaches of trust, including informing on camp activities, will also exclude the person responsible from the camp. All allegations will be treated seriously but with an awareness that they can be divisive, especially if unsubstantiated.

Perhaps they copied and pasted this section from something they were going to hand out to campers because I certainly don’t think it can apply to journalists.

No interrupting? I’m not sure broadcast and radio journalists will be able to be follow that one for more than a minute interviewing someone. And the idea that journalists would steal, use violence or sexually harass someone on the camp are so far fetched I’m not going to discuss them.

I find the last point particularly insulting, I’ll assume they mean ‘informing’ in the sense of passing the police information that was given in confidence, rather than informing people by reporting – as is our job. Not giving unpublished material over to the state is an issue that journalists go to prison for.

In any case the campers needn’t worry as we’ve already to agreed to a code of conduct – the NUJ Code of Conduct. And that is the only code I will be agreeing to as I cover Climate Camp this week.

Climate Camp: Give it up for the Guardian!

The Guardian has set up a Flickr group asking people who are attending the Climate Camp this week in South London to send in their pictures from inside the camp:

Please share your photographs with this groups [sic] as events unfold. We’ll feature some of our favourites on guardian.co.uk and maybe in the newspaper version of the Guardian as well. By posting your pictures in this group you agree to let this happen (though copyright remains with you at all times).

Which is a nice way of saying, please send us your pictures so we don’t have to pay photographers for theirs.

Now while getting people to send photos and video to news organisations is a old hat for broadcasters, for the Guardian to set up a Flickr group to harvest free content specifically for an event is something new.

Citizen reporting is far from the best way to gather news. Climate Camp has always instilled a strong sense of Us vs. Them when it comes to the media and for the Guardian to try and cosy up with the campers and use their content for free has serious implications for how the Guardian reports on the camp.

If they want protesters to send them pictures for free they aren’t going to want to be too critical about the camp or actions that people from the camp might be doing. To say nothing of the veracity of the pictures that might be sent in by those opposed to its aims as well as by supporters.

It is no longer news gathering when the subject of a story provides their own content – it is propaganda. Would you trust the Guardian if it took content supplied by the police in the same way?

Or maybe they should employ professional journalists and photographers to independently report what is actually happening.

In a very small way this is actually good for professional photographers as it further invalidates the restrictions Climate Camp organisers want to impose on journalists, which I wrote about yesterday.

If anyone can go on to the camp at any time and take photographs – and now thanks to the Guardian’s Flickr group send them straight to the newspaper – there’s no reason that professional photographers shouldn’t be allowed to either.

The timing of this event may be by no means coincidental. On the 1st of September (half-way through the camp) photographers will be protesting outside the Guardian because of a new contract they have issued that says that they will no longer pay photographers for reuse of photographs.

This means that the Guardian will be allowed to use photographs as many times as they like and syndicate them to other news organisations in perpetuity without having to pay the photographer any more than the original fee for the photographs. Photographers rely on reuse fees to earn a living.

Over 800 photographers have signed a petition against the new conditions and many of them, including myself, will no longer supply the Guardian with images after September the 1st until they renegotiate the terms with the NUJ.

So if you want professional, uncomprimised reporting and photography from Climate Camp this week you might want to look elsewhere than the Guardian.

Climate Camp: No Out of Hours Access

Later this week hundreds of activists will be swooping on an undisclosed location (most probably in East London) and setting up Climate Camp for another year.

And like previous years there are restrictions on reporting.

In the past the media rules included black-listing journalists who had given the camp ‘hostile coverage‘ and giving ‘sympathetic’ press and radio journalists extended access but only after they had told the camp organisers what they intended to publish.

Thankfully those rules were dropped after complaints from the NUJ and all journalists were escorted around the camp for an hour a day. They also didn’t go through with idea of carrying a flag around so that journalists and photographers were identifiable.

This year the restrictions are less stringent, but are still a futile effort to control the story. Print and radio journalists will once again be allowed to cosy up with campers, as long as they sign up to the camp’s code of conduct. I did ask for a copy of the code of conduct but the camps media team did not respond before publication.

Photographers and videographers on the other hand will only be allowed on the camp from 10-6 which is an improvement over the 1 hour that was allowed at the 2007 camp at Heathrow and the 2 hours at last years camp in Kent.

We will also be accompanied by minders who will make sure “that consent is obtained from people being filmed and photographed” – It’s not like we’re professionals and photograph and interview people every day for a living or anything.

In previous years photographers have been herded around the camp to a series of photo-ops with lots of fluffy activists dressed as polar bears and penguins, which is great PR for the camp but not what most people would consider good reporting or journalism.

The camps organisers insist that the restrictions are to prevent the camp turning into a ‘media goldfish bowl’ but by placing restrictions on access they create exactly that.

The camp will be most likely once again in a field or park that they have squatted without the landowners permission for the week and will be inviting the local community and members of the public to come along to workshops.

So if anyone can turn up and attend the camp, why can’t journalists? As John Vidal the Guardian’s Environmental Editor said after the Heathrow camp in 2007:

I refused to go on the absurd camp tour. On a personal level, every journalist and photographer I talked to felt insulted. Why is a journalist – good or bad – not classed as a citizen? Why could not journalists inform themselves by going to the lectures and debates? Why should they not enjoy the same rights as anyone else? Why was my partner allowed into the camp but not me? Why could I only talk to people I had known for years only in the company of a minder?

Climate camp’s media mismanagement, John Vidal – The Guardian

Just as we should not swallow the police line that everything is going to be softly-softly community policing we should not accept the camp’s line that everything there is compost toilets and renewable energy.

It is our job to report events as they happen, not as others would tell us they happened.